Coal Mines Of Franklin County Illinois



This mp3 playing is the Middle Spunk Creek Boys "Coal Tattoo".


Franklin County is rich in coal, "black gold". The coal industry really began to open up in Franklin County after 1903 and there followed a population explosion of families coming here for jobs in the mines. My mothers family came here in 1927 from Alabama. My grandparents said the working conditions were a little better here than in Alabama, where the top was low and more men were killed in the mines. The top here in Franklin County is high enough for a man to stand up straight and work. Many families immigrated here from other countries for jobs in the mines. Some men came alone and saved enough money to send for their families. A lot of the local boys lied about their ages in order to work in the mines. Some of them were as young as 15 and 16 years old.

At certain hours of the day everyone went out in the yard to listen for the mine whistles. There was a code for the whistles. One for working, one for idle, and one long whistle for an accident at the mines. When you heard that accident whistle a cold chill went down your spine because you knew it meant bad news was coming for some poor family.

The mines in the old days did not always work steady. Sometimes they went idle for weeks. I've heard my grandmother tell about looking for wild greens to cook and she would make a little pan of cornbread to go with them and that was all they had to eat that day. The kids would walk home from school for lunch and only get a cold biscuit. She took old clothes apart and used the material to make new clothes for her smaller kids. But they usually had a milk cow, and a few chickens, and eggs if the hens were laying, and a garden to get them through the lean times. Sometimes I would get a feed sack skirt. Remember when chicken feed came in bags made of printed material.

Coal miners carried a special kind of lunch bucket. It was made of aluminum and had a compartment in the top for your lunch and the bottom part you carried your drinking water in.
They wore a hard hat with a light attached to it. In the old days the miners light was fueled with carbide. Now they are powered by special batteries you carry on your belt.

Most of the mines in this area are deep shaft mines. The work was hard and it was dangerous. Many men were crushed by falling rock, or squeezed between cars, or died in explosions from a buildup of methane gas. In the old days canaries were carried below as a safety net. If the canary died, everyone left the mines. Today big fans are used to draw the methane gas out of the mines. If the fan goes down, everyone goes out of the mines. Stoppings are built and braddish cloth is hung to direct the fresh air to the working parts of the mines. Each shift the mine is examined and if the examiner declares the mines safe then the men can go down. The examiner carries a special lamp for testing methane levels. One of the worst mine explosions in this nations history happened right here at West Frankfort when Orient #2 exploded December 21, 1951 killing 119 men. I remember it well. Everyone was glued to their radio listening for reports of who had been killed. Congressman Kenneth J. Gray, now retired, drove an ambulance carrying bodies from the mines to Central School where the bodies were laid out on the gymnasium floor to wait for identification. My uncle, Frank Martin, was one of the rescue workers bringing the dead miners out. Besides the methane there is a lot of coal dust in the air and many miners end up with black lung. Men now are provided with masks and self rescuers but they are hard to breath through and a lot of men just don't use them.

Rock falls are common. Miners learn to read the top and sides. Pressure causes the coal to splinter off and pop out and sometines tons of coal suddenly fall. This is why miners learn to listen for signs of the cracking noises indicating a possible fall. In the old days posts or props were used to prop up the top but now long 'roof bolts' are drilled into the top. Coal is similar to glass and if it cuts you it leaves a black marking when it heals.

Local Unions were formed and the men began to fight for higher wages, better working conditions, pensions, and health insurance. Those were hard times too. Non union workers would come in and try to take the jobs and there would be a clash between union and non union. Mother Jones, a union agitator, even came to Zeigler once for a union rally. The 1915 West Frankfort City Directory lists these locals: Local 2657 Miners - Meet every Friday night at Griffin's Hall. John Wester, Pres., Jack Wilson, Recording Sec'y. Local 329 Miners - Meet every Wed. night at Griffin's Hall. Samuel Dodson, Pres.; J. C. Schnider, Recording Sec. Local 959 Miners - Meet every Tuesday night at Redmen Hall. L. A. Siebert, Pres.; J. H. Young, Recording Sec'y. Local 789 Miners - Meet every Tuesday night at Griffins Hall. Geo Knapp, Pres.; Thos. Jones, Recording Sec'y. Local 1971 Miners - Meet every Saturday night at Redmen Hall. John Stagner, Pres.; Thos. Rumit, Recording Sec'y.

U.M.W.A. vs. Progressive - The struggle between unions for dominance in the coal fields.
On November 24, 1972 Mr. Rex Rhodes conducted an interview for the Oral History Office with Mr. Henson Purcell, a retired editor of the West Frankfort, Illinois Daily American newspaper. In this interview, he focuses on the war between the United Mine Workers of America and the Progressive Union over who would have control in Franklin County. He discusses the Battle of Mulkeytown and forays into Franklin County by the Progressives. The U. M. W. A. and Progressives clashed at Mulkeytown where a lot of tires were flattened and windshields busted out. You can read the whole story here.

Coal has been the major industry in Franklin County and each year it is celebrated with the "Old King Coal Festival". There is a "King Coal" chosen and a little miss "Flame". I remember years ago the men had a beard growing contest. You started growing your beard on a certain day and the one with the longest beard at the end won the contest.

Thursday, March 19, 2020 15:39:23 Everyone in Franklin County used coal to heat their houses and cook with in the old days. I remember shaking down the ashes and dust going everywhere. You had to let the ashes cool before you took them out because you would get the sulphur smell if you didn't. Sometimes the methane would build up in the heating stove and you would get a big puff when it ignited. That happened mostly in milder weather when a real hot fire wasn't needed. The hot coals would form a crust and when you poked through it the gas would ignite. If it was bad enough it would knock the stove pipe down and then you really had a big mess. I hated it when I spilled coal or ashes on the floor and had to clean it up. I sure was glad when clean gas and electric came along.


Coal Fired Steam Engine

Mules In the Mines

Gob Coal

Mother Jones

Mine Rescue Station,
Benton, IL

United Mine
Workers Hospital

Union Funeral Home

Mine Companies
In Franklin Co IL

Coal in Franklin County,
So IL History pg 13

Mines mentioned in
Franklin Co. IL, Its
Development, pgs 76, 78,
88, 89, 108, 110, 111, 112,
114, 147, 148, 149, 150, 151,
152, 153.

Coal for heating
and cooking.

Franklin County Coal

Illinois Coal Mining Investigations
pg 31

War Work of the
Bureau of Standards
Royalton, Sesser, &
Orient Mines.
see pgs 75, 76

Methane gas & highly
flamable dust. Black
blasting powder &
mine explosions.
See pgs 7, 8, 9, 10.

Illinois State Geological
Survey, Bureau of Mines 1919
Low sulpher coal in
Franklin Co in 1904.
9 ft seam. See pg 13

Orient #2 Mine Explosion,
West Frankfort, IL

1905 - 50 men lost their
lives in Zeigler Mine gas
explosion in Franklin
Co. pg 564

Franklin County
Coal Mines in
1910. pgs 17, 18

"Zeigler's Coal Miners"

Coal burning farm tractor.

Seven stranded coal towns in
Williamson, Franklin, & Saline Co's IL - depression era

More Franklin Co IL
Coal Mine Pictures

1914 [utube video]


Coal Mines In Franklin County Townships








Six Mile